Sitting in a vehicle on the side of Highway 289, Geoff Stewart grimaces as a truck passes over the old bridge just ahead.
A road safety crew is in the process of setting up construction signs for some pending patchwork for the potholes that pockmark the surface of the bridge. And, while it is obvious the patching is badly needed, Stewart, who serves as both the area councillor and deputy mayor for Colchester County, says the time has come for more than a continuation of “band-aid” remedies.
“It’s not doing anything for the structure of the bridge itself,” he said, of the pending patchwork.
“I think it’s time for this bridge to be replaced.
“I mean, this is the main thoroughfare for all our truck traffic, for the school buses with the kids on them and the pedestrians that are walking to school. And as you can see by the walkway there, it slopes toward the road, it’s all rotted out along the edge of the asphalt and when municipal people come out to do the sidewalks they can’t put a piece of equipment on that decking, they have to come out and physically shovel it off every time it snows.”
In addition to the normal wear and tear from heavy trucks and other traffic, Stewart said the bridge sustained major damage Halloween night in 1978 when a group of hooligans set fire to it. That date is etched in his mind, Stewart said, because it was the night he joined the Brookfield Fire Department.
“I was there,” he said. “I would say it caused fair damage to the wood itself because the creosote had basically boiled out of the wood.”
And Stewart believes that is when the province should have started planning to replace it.
Over the years, work has been done to shore up the timbers and repair the strained abutments, but Stewart worries those measures will not continue to suffice.
Bob Lawrence, who lives right beside the structure, said he shares Stewart’s concerns, especially given the number of loads of lumber chips and other transports that are trucked across the bridge.
“Yesterday morning they were right steady here,” Lawrence recently said. “When those big trucks that weigh about 40 ton, come across here and hit those holes, my house starts shaking a little bit.”
Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MLA Larry Harrison has also expressed concern about the bridge, as recently as March 5, when he rose in Province House to question the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR)about plans for alleviating the long-standing concerns.
Harrison, who is out of the province, was not available for comment before deadline. But in a transcript from his comments as recorded by Hansard, Harrison said the citizens of Brookfield are “very concerned about the safety of that bridge… ” and that he has heard from several community groups questioning when it would be replaced.
Although Harrison did not receive a direct response from TIR Minister Lloyd Hines about a replacement date, department spokeswoman Marla McInnis told the Truro News the bridge is scheduled to be rebuilt during the 2023/24 fiscal year.
Stewart, however, said he doesn’t feel that is soon enough.
“I don’t feel it’s going to last that long with the condition it’s in now. This is the worst that I’ve seen it in the years I’ve lived in this community,” he said. “This is a major piece of infrastructure that affects a lot of traffic to all the outlying areas … it’s just a matter of time, I feel, something is going to happen.”
McInnis said there are a number of factors, including budget considerations, scheduling of other projects and the condition of the bridge itself that will determine exactly when the bridge will be replaced.
But she said department staff are aware of the bridge’s condition and are planning accordingly.
“I would say there is a chance it could be moved up,” she said. “They monitor it very regularly to see if it is safe.”